Sometimes you read something and you do a double take, go back and check that your eyes saw what you thought your eyes saw. I did that this morning. The Irish Times has a report by Gerry Moriarty headed “McLaughlin accepts ‘status quo’ “. EH? Mitchel McLaughlin, the Sinn Féin party, unionism - just about everybody north and south signed up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and central to that was acceptance that there’d be no constitutional change in the north until a majority here voted for it.
So why is it news to say that Mitchel McLaughlin accepts the present constitutional status quo? Well, the south’s media have long looked at Sinn Féin with some degree of anxiety. They were the one party that looked as if they might re-awake the slumbering giant of Irish re-unification. They were associated with the IRA and violence in the past, which the south was desperately anxious to keep ‘up there’. And in more recent times, they looked/look as though they might become a significant force in southern Irish politics, upsetting the nicely-balanced Fianna Fail/Fine Gael apple-cart.
Anyone with any grasp of recent northern events knows that Sinn Féin accept the present constitutional position in the north, while at the same time working for the achievement of Irish unity by peaceful means. And yet we have today’s story in The Irish Times, to place alongside the shock-horror story of Alex Maskey saying he’d throw stones if his house was attacked with petrol bombs by a hostile mob. We also have the naked sectarian violence of some flag protestors, for whom the sight of Sinn Féin and, in this case the SDLP working democratically for something a teensy bit nearer to parity of esteem, as promised by the GFA, is just too much. “They’re chipping away at our Britishness!” is the cry. Have the southern media leaped on the nonsense of that and denounced it for the maladjusted slabbering that it is? Pass.
To the flag men: for God’s sake, guys. If you see the flying of the Union flag 17 times annually as the removal of a vital chip in your Britishness, you should either check with your local psychiatrist (maybe John Alderdice of the Alliance Party?) or sit down and have a good long talk with yourself about the difference between reality and paranoid fantasy.
To the southern media: it would help if you could find your way to avoid treating the articulation of part of a 15-year-old Agreement as though it was a startling change in Sinn Féin policy. As they used to say in an old BBC radio comedy: we already know that, kindly leave the stage.